Child support is considered the right of the child, and it is an entitlement that the courts strongly uphold. When children are young, it is obvious that they require financial support from their parents, which is to be provided on both sides, although it may be only one parent who formally pays child support. However, once the child is over 18, it becomes less clear when they would be entitled to child support. This will depend highly on the circumstances of the case, based on legislative definitions of who is considered a child, and case law on this issue.

This post will explain when adult children may be entitled to child support and examine a case example, Crawford v Inkster, 2024 ABKB 122, in which the court decided that a child working as part of their educational program was not entitled to child support. If you have a child over 18 and wish to understand your child support obligations, this information will be most helpful. 

When are adult children entitled to child support?

To be entitled to child support, a child must fall under the definition in section 46 of the Family Law Act. Generally, a person who is under the age of 18 is considered a child and is therefore entitled to child support. If they are 18 or older, they are considered a child if they are under their parents’ care and cannot withdraw from their care to support their own life due to one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Illness; 
  2. Disability;
  3. Being a full-time student, based on prescribed guidelines; or 
  4. Another cause.

This is a two-step legal test, where the court must determine if the child cannot withdraw from their parents’ care to obtain the necessities of life. Secondly, the court will assess the cause for being unable to become independent. 

The parent seeking child support is responsible for proving that the child is not self-sufficient if they are 18 or older. This parent should be prepared to provide evidence that the child is not self-sufficient, especially if the child also works. To show that the child is unable to withdraw from their parent’s care, it must be more than a lifestyle choice to remain dependent on their parents. Also, even if a parent voluntarily provides for the child’s needs, such as a place to sleep, food, etc., this does not mean the other parent is required to provide child support

Are students entitled to child support?

If they are found to be self-sufficient, adult children are not entitled to child support. In some cases, it can be seen when a child is considered self-sufficient, although it is typically related to whether or not they work full-time or are still a student. 

According to the Alberta Child Support Guidelines, a full-time student includes those enrolled in a full-time program of study during an academic term. This can mean that if the child is studying for a period shorter than a typical school term, they may need to meet the definition of a full-time student. Generally, a standard academic term is considered four months. 

Some programs, such as apprenticeships, may include work terms, making it difficult to determine if the child falls under the definition of a full-time student. In these cases, the court will need to consider if the child’s participation in a particular apprenticeship program will make them a full-time student. The court will consider any work periods in the program, including the hours and pay. Participation in an apprenticeship program is not determinative for finding a child is self-sufficiency, so the case’s specific facts need to be considered. 

Are adult children considered self-sufficient if they work during their studies?

In the Crawford case, the adult child was found to be self-sufficient, as they worked full-time in their apprenticeship program. 

In this case, the child had turned 18 in 2022 and began an apprenticeship program to become a mechanic. Each year in the apprenticeship, the child would study for 2 months and attend a work term for the remaining 10 months. The child lived with the mother.

The mother claimed that the father should pay child support, as the child was not self-sufficient and had to stay at home and live with her. 

The father claimed the child was self-sufficient, working full-time for 10 months with an hourly wage of $18. He claimed that this wage would provide sufficient income to cover the 2 months he attended school full-time. 

The court made the following factual findings: 

  1. The child worked full-time, which was assumed to mean approximately 37.5 hours per week, which translated to an annual income of almost $30,000 per year for 44 weeks of work per year; 
  2. Apprenticeship students are eligible for Employment Insurance during the school segment of their programs, which was calculated to be approximately $3000; 
  3. The child lived with the mother, who paid for all of his expenses, including his cell phone, gas, car, insurance, food, and shelter.

The court considered case law that found that adult children in certain apprenticeship programs were self-sufficient and, therefore, not entitled to child support. In those cases, the courts had found that full-time employment at or around minimum wage could be adequate for finding that the child was self-sufficient. 

Also, the court found that there was no evidence that the child was not able to meet his expenses. In particular, the mother’s evidence did not touch on any of the following:

  1. The child’s overall expenses, including tuition for attending the school segment each year;
  2. Her expenses for supporting the child and which portion of her contributions were gifts or were to be repaid; 
  3. Whether the child was paying for any expenses such as rent, and the amount, if any; 
  4. Whether the child was able to save any of the income earned from his program and EI benefits, and the amount, if any; 
  5. Whether the child received any bursaries, grants, or student loans; 
  6. Whether the child received any financial assistance from anyone else, and the amount, if any; 
  7. Whether the child also worked part-time during his school segments.

The court found that the child was self-sufficient and, therefore, not entitled to child support

Calgary Family Lawyers Advising Parents On Child Support Matters 

Child support is the child’s right, but this may be more complex if an adult child is involved. Whether or not they are entitled to child support is highly dependent on the circumstances of the case. You should speak with our family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman, who are experienced in assisting parents with child support claims, including for adult children who still live at home due to illness, disability, or full-time attendance at a post-secondary institution. Our Calgary and Canmore family law lawyers are dedicated to finding the best resolution for you and your children in your divorce case. 

To book a consultation, please contact us online or by phone at 403-910-3000

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